Friday, January 27, 2012

Canadian War Horses at the end of the Great War

Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" has rightfully drawn attention to those "long-nosed soldiers" who so faithfully served their warring masters on both sides of the conflict in World War One. The Germans disbanded their cavalry, but the British and Canadians persisted.
It was rare, after the war, for Canadian troopers to be able to ship their mounts home. Virtually all the Canadian chargers were sold to the Belgian government. S.G."Luke" Williams, in Stand to Your Horses noted on March 10th, 1919, the last of the Lord Strathcona's horses were turned over.
Williams later made a business trip to Europe in 1930, and saw teams of horses and mules that he opined had been in the Canadian Army: "Our horses were always easily distinguished from the Belgian horses." I am by no means a horseman myself, but I'd be interested to know how he could tell.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Canadian Cavalry Brigade--gone but not forgotten

I am amazed at the connections that pop up as a result of modern communications.
Long-time readers of my blog may remember my series of posts entitled "Moreuil Wood Saga", the last of which was on March 30th, 2011 (they are archived). In the post of that date I included a photo of a piper and a bugler, in WW I Bitish highland costume. The two men were a poignant part of the ceremony put on by Jean-Paul Brunel of Moreuil.
A short time ago I was contacted by M. Yves Holbecq, who it turns out was the piper. Yves, whose website is at, continues to take part in ceremonies in France as part of the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band.
I was happy to send Yves a copy of "Soldier of the Horse", which he tells me he is enjoying. His English is obviously a lot better than my French. But in any language, the interest in all things related to the Great War continues to grow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"War Horse" cavalry charge reality-based?

The opening of the battle sequences in "War Horse" features a cavalry charge against a German camp. Is it based in reality?
Thus far I have not been able to turn up a British cavalry charge that closely resembled Steven Spielberg's spectacular creation. And spectacular it was, from the moment the troopers rise out of the ground cover, and gallop forward, swords aiming for men on foot and caught unaware. Unfortunately there are many precedents for Great War cavalry charging machine guns, as the movie scene played out. As historian Keith Mitchell put it in an address, "Once again the British cavalry proved that brave men on horseback were no match for machine guns".
Perhaps the filmmaker had in mind the charge of Flowerdew's Squadron at Moreuil Wood on March 30th, 1918. There were major differences between the reality and the movie scene, however. Flowerdew was not captured, but was killed. And the enemy was not helpless, but waiting with rifle, machine gun, and artillery.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Battle of Moreuil Wood reverberates still

The Battle of Moreuil Wood took place on a wooded ridge above the village of Moreuil, France, on March 30th, 1918. The sounds of the battle have long faded, but the inherited memories linger on.
Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) do not list "Moreuil" among their battle honours, but the regiment celebrates the occasion as close as possible to the anniversary date, subject to operational requirements, and have done so since 1927. This year, the commemoration will be marked with a sports day and social events to take place over March 20th to 21st at the regiment's home in Fort Steele, north of Edmonton.
None among the attendees will have fought at Moreuil, but no doubt toasts to the memory of those who did will he hoisted by veterans of subsequent wars. My father never attended a Moreuil Day celebration, as far as I know; but I hope to be there out of respect for those who rode with him and for those who continue to serve.